The convergence of my daily Bible readings and a memorial service for my dear friend have me thinking about how much richer are lives can be if we all align around the one true thing that matters, which is Jesus Christ and his glorious reign.
Daniel and Esther are two personalities in Israel’s history who understood that they will gladly serve the king, and work for the good of kingdom in which they find themselves, but not at the cost of obedience to their one true King, Jehovah. This is why Daniel openly defies the king’s edict by praying to Jehovah, not in secret, but in full view of his open window, as a means of declaring that there’s only One to which we’re called to offer unrestrained allegiance. Esther risks her life by standing before the king, unbidden, fully realizing that by doing so she’ll either be invited in or executed. Her reason for this bold move? Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to the powers of state because he believed that his allegiance was ultimately to God. Neither nation, nor any political party (Republican, Democrat, Green, Other) or ideology (socialist, libertarian, monarchists, tea people, coffee people, “free” market capitalists, Other) will ever embody the reign of Christ. Because of this, we have one true king, one true kingdom, one true citizenship, and it’s not related to our flag or borders – it’s related to Jesus.
Meanwhile, as I read Esther this morning and write this piece, I’m mindful of my global Torchbearer family gathering to grieve the loss of our dear friend and remarkable teacher/leader, Hans Peter Royer. My daughter eulogized his life eloquently here recently. Today, missing my friends, I’m pondering the privilege of being in a community bound together, truly, by fellowship in Christ alone. Our common purpose is Christ; declaring him as the only source of life, inviting people to live out from his resurrection power, and seeking to disciple people into a life of making his good reign visible through relationships and service in our broken world. These things matter more than anything – and as long as they do, we enjoy rich fellowship and unity of purpose in spite of our vast differences.
Differences? Yes! Under the surface of our united grief today there are many cultures and hence, ways of living together as nations. For example, many devout Christ followers in Europe favor universal health coverage and shudder at thought that there’s a nation where people are walking the streets carrying weapons. Devout Christ followers in America often hold exactly the opposite views in the name of freedom of responsibility. Meanwhile, these arguments, on both sides, seem elitist and esoteric to those who are busy preaching Christ in places where the threat of terror hangs over their locations daily. When we’re together we speak of Christ and his reign, speak of how we’re working together to make that reign visible, call each other to deeper Christ commitments.
But never, unless we happen to be skiing together in Austria on the very day of an elementary school shooting spree in Connecticut, do we talk about gun control. Even then, when we do, and Austrians shake their heads at our addiction to “freedom” even as some Americans shake theirs at the Europeans readiness to give up such rights – we don’t baptize our views in the gospel of Christ.
Does this mean there’s never a time to be political? Far from it. Christ followers have an absolute obligation to do justice and love mercy. This requires addressing systemic issues that contribute to poverty, violence, and oppression. But here’s the critical thing to see: We’re called to do this in the name of Jesus, not in the name of a party, or nation. To the extent that we do, we’re able to dialogue about these things, think critically, prayerfully sharpen each other, and then go back into our cultures and truly “seek the welfare of the city in which we live” – all the while freed from the illusion that the ways of Babylon, or Gun Rights, or Universal Health Care are, inherently, Jesus’ ways. We’ll be as suspicious of Huffington Post as Fox News
Jesus’ way will be most visible in this broken world when the people of God embody visible alternatives that are trans-national, trans-political, trans-racial – places where the poor and marginalized are valued, and earthly weapons are never the preferred solution to solving any problems, and people are given the opportunity to be freed from everything, ranging from human trafficking to the many addictions that enslave the prosperous. This is hardly a call to some disembodied apolitical spiritism. Rather, it’s a call to make God’s reign visible, at cost of our lives if necessary. But no nation or kingdom or ideology in this world gets it right – democratics are no more the party of Jesus than the tea party. We need to get over it.
Beer & Brats in Germany. Chai and Dal-Bot in Nepal. Croissants and Chardonnay in France: Christ is there – loving, serving, blessing, and standing against the powers, in favor of THE POWER that is the source of life. May we stand with Him, and in Him, and through Him – because nothing else matters.
If I could wish one thing for our churches these days, it would be that we’d return with due haste to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, and devote ourselves utterly to making Christ’s reign visible. Everything else is chaff.